Air Canada Business Class Review – Santiago to Toronto FEB 3 2006

Air Canada Flight AC093 Santiago – Toronto
Boeing 767-38E (ER) C-GBZR
Friday February 3, 2006

This was the return journey home from our 12-day visit to Argentina, which was booked several months in advance, redeeming reward points from our Air Canada Aeroplan frequent flyer account. Given the great distance and long journey time from Canada down to Argentina, comfort was a priority. So we decided to splurge treating ourselves to Business Class reward tickets. We actually boarded the flight at its origin at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the short two-hour hop across the Andes to Santiago, Chile.

The Business Class cabin was two thirds empty on the two hour Buenos Aires – Santiago sector, and we landed an hour of so before sun down in clear and warm conditions, with the Captain informing us it was still 29 degrees C. All passengers were deplaned at Santiago during the one hour station stop, so that the aircraft could be groomed for the long-haul flight back to Toronto. Interestingly enough, Air Canada has traffic rights between Buenos Aires and Santiago, so some passengers left us, but a larger number along with the new crew were waiting to join the flight at gate 15 in the new Santiago Airport terminal. Large glass windows are a prominent feature of the new airport, which is great for aircraft spotters, but they somehow forgot to incorporate an adequate air-conditioning system. It was stifling hot as we waited to board the flight, although the Servisair-GlobeGround contract agents boarded the plane efficiently, there was no advance boarding for Business-Class passengers as normal in Canada.

As we took our seats 2D and 2F in a full Business-Class cabin, National Post and Globe and Mail newspapers were handed out, along with a Spanish language Chilean paper. A bottle of water was waiting in each seat for each passenger, however, there was no pre-departure drink service for the Business-Class passengers (orange juice, champagne, wine etc) as is standard on other airlines. I decided the check the magazine rack for some interesting in-flight reading material only to find Canadian Living, Chatellaine, Canada Food and Wine, and Canadian Fishing; titles that are of little interest to most business travelers. There were no business and news magazines such as The Economist, Business Week, or Time, which one would naturally expect to be provided. Our flight was under the command of Captain Green, and he did not provide the passengers with a welcome aboard announcement telling us about flying time, planned routing, enroute weather, or weather at destination.

Three flight attendants were allocated to the 25 passengers in the Business-Class cabin, with two working the cabin, and one working the galley preparing meals and drinks. Prior to take-off the menus were distributed, with passengers having a main course choice of Grilled Chicken Breast served over linguini with pesto, Over-baked Crabmeat and Corn Boat offered on rice pilaf, or Tortellini filled with mushroom accented by Bechamel and Tomato Basil Sauces. The fasten seat belt sign was turned off about fifteen minutes after our 945PM on-time departure from Santiago, and Gloria, the In-Charge Flight Attendant walked through the Business-Class cabin and personally introduced herself to each and every passenger, welcoming everyone aboard the flight. This was a very nice touch, and very impressive. As the flight was full, Gloria worked with her colleagues in the coach cabin for the duration of the flight.

At 1015 PM approximately 30 minutes after departure, the first drink service started, and my travel partner and I enjoyed the flight’s featured cocktail, the Iceberg Cosmopolitan (a refreshing mixture of Newfoundland-made Iceberg Vodka mixed with cranberry juice and a splash of Grand Marnier). A small plate of premium nuts was served as well. This was soon after followed by a hot towel service, and 45 minutes after departure the Captain had still not welcomed us aboard the flight with a standard flight synopsis announcement. Captain Green made no such announcement on this flight.

The Boeing 767-300 for our flight was C-GBZR, a former Canadian Airlines aircraft, which still retained its dark blue Canadian Airlines interior, which in my opinion is not as nice as Air Canada’s Business Class interior. The Business-Class cabin seating was comfortable with ample pitch, configured with five rows of 1-2-2. However, the seats are not fully-reclining as compared to the Business-Class seats on most other Air Canada 767-300s, which recline to near flat.

Approximately one hour after take-of, blue table clothes were distributed in anticipation of dinner. White table clothes would have been nicer… classier. Fifteen minutes later a cold starter plate was served, consisting of Prosciutto Ham and marinated Heart of Palm, which was very nice. The fresh ground pepper was a nice touch! About 20 minutes after the cold plate service, the main course was served. I chose the Over-baked Crabmeat and Corn Boat, which was available, and it was served hot on fine china, and was very delicious! A dinner drink service was offered to accompany the meal and I had a nice glass of red wine. The meal portions were sufficient, and the food taste and presentation was to a high standard.

At 1130 PM (almost two hours after take-off) the meal trays were collected, and a wine (port), gourmet cheese, fruit and cracker service commenced, followed by desert and tea. I opted for the Cherimoya Mousse in a Chocolate Cup, which was delightful. Very decadent, and was enjoyed by all the surrounding passengers! There were extras of the Chocolate Cup available, and passengers were offered a second helping. We politely declined. Desert and tea service continued until midnight, and cabin lights were dimmed at 1210 AM for several hours of sleeping.

Air Canada provides its Business Class passengers with very comfortable, warm and somewhat heavy grade comforters, instead of thinner grade blankets provided on other airlines. This is a very nice, unique touch that ads to increased comfort while sleeping, when the cabin can get quite cool on long-haul flights. That said, the cabin was kept at a perfect temperature for the entire flight (not too hot and not too cool). Personal DVD players and movies were available for Business Class passengers’ use during the flight, the in-flight pantry was fully stocked with sandwiches, snacks and drinks for between meal cravings and passengers were invited to help themselves as needed.

After a very comfortable 6 hour sleep (I actually slept for a solid six hours) the cabin lights were dimmed up at 0630 am, accompanied by a hot face cloth and orange juice service, to gently wake the passengers from their slumber. We were now 90 minutes ahead of our arrival at Toronto. Fifteen minutes later, a cold breakfast plate was served consisting of cold meats and a generous mixture of fresh fruits (including grapefruit, mango, orange, and watermelon), complemented by bread, preservatives, cereals, yogurts and other drinks served from the cart. I thought this was the extent of the breakfast, but to my pleasant surprise a hot tomato and ham omllette plate with sausage and potatoes followed, which was very nice.

At 0730 AM some 10 hours after departure, we finally heard from the flight-deck, when the First Officer informed us that we had commenced our decent, the current temperature was 2 degrees C at Toronto, and we would be landing in 35 minutes (at 605 AM local time) and parking at gate 155 at Toronto’s new Terminal 1. I grabbed my in-flight kit and dashed to the lav to quickly freshen up, and the Flight Attendants were now collecting all service items preparing the cabin for landing. We touched down at 0610 AM and arrived at gate 155 at 0622 AM some 22 minutes after the flight’s 0600 AM scheduled arrival time. As we were the first passengers off the aircraft, we were quickly processed through customs and immigration, but to our dismay, our baggage was not priority processed and we waited about 20 minutes for it to arrive on the belt.

Overall Impression:

Air Canada’s J-cabin Flight Attendants and the In-Charge Gloria were extremely friendly and attentive to the passengers, and conducted themselves in a professional yet welcoming manner. They were always available, and performed their jobs with a smile, and truly made the passengers feel welcome, and are deserving of top marks. The quality, quantity and presentation of the food and beverage service was excellent and gets top marks. Cabin comfort was good with generous seats pitch (better than the United 767-300 we flew ORD-EZE) and the Flight Attendants told us the non fully-reclining seats will soon be replaced when Air Canada upgrades its fleet with the new Business Class interiors that are being introduced fleet-wide.

Several areas are in need of improvement: The lack of pre-boarding Business Class passengers in Santiago, the lack of communication from the flight deck, the inadequate magazine selection for Business Class passengers, the lack of a pre-departure drink service, and the lack of priority baggage handling in Toronto for the Business Class passenger’s baggage are small points on their own, but detract as a whole from what would have otherwise been a flawless flight. As such, the flight is rated an 8.5 out of 10.